K.C. Douglas Interview: (26:44) LISTEN HERE: K.C. Douglas
Interviewed By: Chris Strachwitz
Location: Oakland, CA
This is an unedited interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces.
A Note About the Transcriptions: In order to expedite the process of putting these interviews online, we are using a transcription service. Due to the challenges of transcribing speech – especially when it contains regional accents and refers to regional places and names – some of these interview transcriptions may contain errors. We have tried to correct as many as possible, but if you discover errors while listening, please send corrections to email@example.com.
Chris Strachwitz How did you make yourself heard in the old days, when they didn’t have amplifiers and all that, did you just have to play harder?
K.C. Douglas: No, just like you playing now.
Chris Strachwitz You couldn’t hear it in the club, though.
K.C. Douglas: You didn’t hardly ever find no guitars in no club.
Chris Strachwitz Oh, is that right? What, did you used to play at picnics?
K.C. Douglas: Around parties. Around where they had them big…you couldn’t hear no guitar. As long as you had three or four guitars, you could hear it pretty good. If you mess around with a piano, you couldn’t hear no guitar. You didn’t hardly ever see that in there. House parties, sometimes, like Saturday night, dances they’d have in the country.
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, I was wondering
K.C. Douglas: But see, they’d have four or five guitars.
Chris Strachwitz They’d have four or five guitars, I see.
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, you could hear that pretty good. Sometimes a fiddle, because we used to be ………, that guy could fiddle. Oooo, man! They wouldn’t allow to play on the streets. Around no band, drums, you didn’t hear no guitar, they couldn’t hear them.
Chris Strachwitz Do you remember any of the bands in particular that you heard?
K.C. Douglas: I never did pay very too much attention to them. Most of your bands, they come around back in the old country. Didn’t have too many bands around, unless it was a medicine show or something like that, hardly ever.
Chris Strachwitz Who were some of the guitar players that you really enjoyed, or you just picked out your own style?
K.C. Douglas: When I was small like that, I liked Blind Lemon, he was playing guitars. Leroy Cobbs (Carr?), Lonnie Johnson, and all those guys. I just liked that.
Chris Strachwitz What do you call that style?
K.C. Douglas: They used to call that stop time music, what people used to buck dance by and all that stuff.
Chris Strachwitz Is that right? Did they use that a lot at the country dances?
K.C. Douglas: Oh yeah. Man, they used to just cut out dancing with the women. The men get to dancing that …. and they just have a …..
Chris Strachwitz It has a beautiful swing to it. Do you ever hear a fellow named Willie McTell? To me, at least on a record once I heard, he played something like that. I don’t think he ever became too famous, Blind Willie, he called himself all kinds of names, he recorded under. Do you ever find people who will ask for the old stuff in the clubs?
K.C. Douglas: They want more of that than this other!
K.C. Douglas: Ooo, man! They crazy about that old style.
Chris Strachwitz I was wondering about that, because so many people put it down, they said, “Well, that’s old fashioned music.” I thought maybe people still want the old fashioned music.
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, people go for that, you know. A lot of young people ain’t heard much of that type of music, they want to hear it now.
Chris Strachwitz That’s right. It has a nice ease to it, and all at once, it’s so tense, it seems to me.
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, you find a lot, it’s a whole lot of them wants to hear that, they like that. It’s a whole lot of them styles I done forgot how to play, pieces like that, I done forgot how it went. There’s a whole lot of this music I done forgot how it went, because I don’t never fool with it or nothing. That’s the open music.
Chris Strachwitz Oh, they call it open?
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, that’s open.
Chris Strachwitz What is the difference between the open … You mean the other…
K.C. Douglas: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz Oh. You hear the whole chord.
K.C. Douglas: You got everything, you make your full chord.
Chris Strachwitz Oh.
K.C. Douglas: See, but in this way, you…
Chris Strachwitz It’s individual notes.
K.C. Douglas: Setting straight, that’s what I told you tonight. That’s what makes that kind of music have such rhythm, it’s minus of the other notes that go with it, see?
Chris Strachwitz I see, there’s no whole chords…
K.C. Douglas: No, you just picking it out of there.
Chris Strachwitz Do you have any songs about disasters, or any stories about people that maybe your relatives told that went on? Any songs that told a story. A lot of times, like Lightning Hopkins he once sang one about the bad winter they had in Houston one year. I was wondering if you’ve ever heard songs like that .
K.C. Douglas: Oh yeah. This guy back, I don’t know whether you would remember or whether you was old enough. This guy, when the high water was in 1927, the Mississippi River had all that, they had all kind of.
Chris Strachwitz In ’27, is that right?
K.C. Douglas: Oh, that was the biggest one.
Chris Strachwitz That was the biggest one?
K.C. Douglas: The guy made a record called “Barbecue Bob” about Mississippi Heavy Water Blues.
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t know which one that referred to, which year.
K.C. Douglas: That was in ’27, I know what that was?
Chris Strachwitz That was in ’27, is that right?
K.C. Douglas: That’s the biggest high water they ever had in the Mississippi River. That’s the time, oh man. Washing houses and everybody, people was going down there to sit on top of houses, just going on out.
Chris Strachwitz When did you come out here to California? Was it about during the war?
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, I come out here in the war, 1945.
Chris Strachwitz Is that right? We’re you come from, then?
K.C. Douglas: Mississippi.
Chris Strachwitz Mississippi.
K.C. Douglas: Jackson.
Chris Strachwitz Jackson. Did you hear this fellow named Sonny Boy Williams down there?
K.C. Douglas: Oh, he had records. They tell me he dead, now.
Chris Strachwitz One of them died, but there’s this other fellow who’s got the same name.
K.C. Douglas: Will, this guy said just taken after Sonny Boy, but the original Sonny Boy, they tell me he actually dead.
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, he was killed.
K.C. Douglas: In a car wreck, or something or other.
Chris Strachwitz No, I think he was murdered with an ice pick, because I’ve heard. I don’t know, it’s a story
K.C. Douglas: I heard he got killed, I don’t know.
Chris Strachwitz He died I think 41 or 42, something like that.
K.C. Douglas: He made a lot of good records.
Chris Strachwitz That’s right.
K.C. Douglas: Oh, man.
K.C. Douglas: I never did, but I think he was from Arkansas.
Chris Strachwitz He was Arkansas, the old Sonny Boy.
K.C. Douglas: I never did meet him.
Chris Strachwitz I don’t know, I only know that the new one is from Mississippi.
K.C. Douglas: I don’t know how him. He made a record one time about Sugar Mama, granulated sugar.
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, “give me your granulated sugar mama.”
K.C. Douglas: Boy, that was a tough record!
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, that was.
K.C. Douglas: That must’ve been along about ’36 or ’37, somewhere, ’35.
Chris Strachwitz One of his big ones was that “Bluebird, Bluebird, why don’t you fly down to Jackson for me?”
K.C. Douglas: Well, now that was Tommy McClennan.
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, McClennan made the same one, he made the same one.
K.C. Douglas: Well, he was from Mississippi. His home was in Yazoo City, I’ve been there.
Chris Strachwitz Where was this?
K.C. Douglas: Yazoo City.
Chris Strachwitz On, in Yazoo City?
K.C. Douglas: Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz Do you know if he’s still alive or anything?
K.C. Douglas: I don’t know, I don’t hear him. I don’t know what happened.
Chris Strachwitz He had a tremendous style, he really
K.C. Douglas: Sure did, but it seemed like he loosed his voice.
Chris Strachwitz Pardon?
K.C. Douglas: Seemed like he loosed his voice, his voice was getting back.
Chris Strachwitz Oh, is that right?
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, he made a record about Highway 50 Route 1, “Run right by my baby’s door.”
Chris Strachwitz Yeah, that’s so funny, I remember that one.
K.C. Douglas: I was 40 miles from where he was at.
Chris Strachwitz No kidding?
Chris Strachwitz: Was Highway 51, that runs through…
K.C. Douglas: Yeah. It go right through Jackson, right straight on into Memphis. All the way from New Orleans on into Chicago.
Chris Strachwitz: There’s quite a few songs about that highway.
K.C. Douglas: Right, it just bust Mississippi wide open, right through Jackson. Right on into Memphis, Tennessee.
Chris Strachwitz: So Highway 40 going across…
K.C. Douglas: Then, the 49, it comes through there, too.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, 49. That’s right, yep. Heard some songs about that, too, I think.
K.C. Douglas: In other words, the 51 run north and south, but 49, it comes out the west, northwest and goes through Jackson going down southeast, 49. Then, then 80, it comes out here some place, don’t it. I don’t know where it…
Chris Strachwitz: 80, wait a minute. 90? Can’t think of it.
K.C. Douglas: Somebody said the 80 come into San Diego, I don’t know if it do.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, maybe so.
Chris Strachwitz Anyway, the 80’s supposed to go from coast to coast.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, is that right?
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, you can get on the 80 and go straight on into Georgia.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s right, I think 80 goes through Arizona….
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, right on through Jackson, Mississippi, right on into Alabama. All four of them highways crosses right in Jackson.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right?
K.C. Douglas: They even got the freeway there, overhead.
Chris Strachwitz: OK,….
K.C. Douglas: They had that before I left there. You never was in Jackson?
Chris Strachwitz: No, I’m going to go this summer down south, I think. It’ll bet it’ll be hot, but…
K.C. Douglas: Oh, hot, man! They people taking about hot, it don’t be hot here because it don’t last no time. I tell you, it’s a pretty country.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s what they say.
K.C. Douglas: It’s pretty because everything, you ain’t got no mountains, just a few…
Chris Strachwitz: Just sort of rolling hills.
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, just that’s all. Vicksburg is about the hilliest town I seen in the south.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that right?
K.C. Douglas: Vicksburg, it sit right on the Mississippi River. It’s about, I might guess 45, 50 miles from Jackson. The 80 highway goes right through it, if you wants to get on the 80, well, you can go right on. You don’t have to get off.
Chris Strachwitz: I guess this business about this trouble …was all this mixed, all these white people down there, they just…
K.C. Douglas: Well that, I mean they have that…
Chris Strachwitz: Causing too much trouble down there.
K.C. Douglas: Well, that comes from way back.
Chris Strachwitz: I guess it does, yeah.
K.C. Douglas: That’s where that come from.
Chris Strachwitz: Because that’s the Civil War, when they started to go…
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, that’s where that come from.
K.C. Douglas: That’s where that come in at. You don’t have too much trouble with the white people down there about nothing like that but the old reb timers. Them the guys, the young class people don’t see that.
Chris Strachwitz: No. What they called, what do you call them? You just had a name for them.
K.C. Douglas: The old timers, old reb timer?
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, reb is how you call it?
K.C. Douglas: They the ones keeps that going, and it ain’t bad as it used to be.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, is that right?
K.C. Douglas: The young class people pushed that out.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I think so, too. I went to Texas last summer, and I noticed even in the bus station, they had different place in there, I thought that was awful..
K.C. Douglas: Well, that was it.
Chris Strachwitz: I wouldn’t know how I’d feel if I had to go to different place or anything like that.
K.C. Douglas: Well, see, the thing about it. Color people was under the slave, and after they come out from under slave, in that country, he still wasn’t a free man, he went from bound slave to free slave. That’s as far as he could go because they was under-educated, they didn’t know how to do nothing, he didn’t know. He actually didn’t know. I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a lot of those books, those people didn’t know. When they find out that they didn’t have to be sold and bought, man come out and say, “You can work wherever you want to work.” Well, he didn’t have nothing to work with. It is still left up to the white man to set up some kind of deal for him to even make his own living, because he didn’t know.
Chris Strachwitz: some kind of a skill.
K.C. Douglas: Yeah, he didn’t know. They set up what they called that sharecropping and like that, because in those days, those farmers was called slave owners.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, because they just […….know what it was.
K.C. Douglas Yeah. Then, they went from slave owners to what they call land owners. Before then, they were slave owners.
Chris Strachwitz : It’s one in the same thing, because he’s still just about…
K.C. Douglas Right, he was just about in the same shape, he didn’t have nothing.
Chris Strachwitz : That’s true.
K.C. Douglas If it hadn’t been for the white man, he didn’t have nowhere to go. He didn’t know how to do nothing but work because that’s all he had to …….. The country’s just now beginning, in that part of the country is just beginning to get away from that. The way they’re getting away from it now is because the last war, so many people left.
Chris Strachwitz : That’s true, that’s very true.
K.C. Douglas That’s what make that. Otherwise, it would’ve been just about as bad as it was, because people didn’t know. People wasn’t traveling ‘til the war went on. What few that did, like my father, he left home when I was a baby.
Chris Strachwitz : Is that right?
K.C. Douglas And before. Stayed up in the north and …… for World War One in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Strachwitz : Is that right?
K.C. Douglas He never did come take me, I was with his mother, my grandmother. He ended up right back there on that farm. Now, you take the young class people, he won’t go back.
Chris Strachwitz : That’s true, because…
K.C. Douglas In fact, there’s no money down there.
Chris Strachwitz : That’s the trouble, there’s hardly any industry or anything…
K.C. Douglas See, that’s what I’m talking about, you ain’t got no money, they don’t give you nothing for work. If a guy ain’t never been out from under it, he don’t know what’s out. Once he get out from under it, then he don’t want to go back.
Chris Strachwitz : Russia, you know? What other people don’t know, they won’t miss it.
K.C. Douglas They don’t know, he don’t know. The biggest of us here in the United States, we don’t know nothing about Russia, no more what they tell us, or what we read. We ain’t been there. See? You get a lot of people say, “Well, how come all them peoples don’t leave and go someplace?”
(tape stops – picks up they’re talking about Sidney Maiden)
Well …… played the Mercury Boogie, but it was slower tempoed.
Chris Strachwitz : what do you think of when he did that to you?
K.C. Douglas I don’t know. Now that’s played just like that, but I never did learn to sing it. Nobody sing that but him.
Chris Strachwitz : That’s true, I think he probably forgot it by now, too. I like that song, the one he said, “Oh, I’m going back home where they raise hog and corn” or something.
K.C. Douglas Something like that.
Chris Strachwitz : He said if you changed right over and went over to this … He sings so much about the old, ……come back to it, he almost ends every number with it.
K.C. Douglas I don’t know much about his piano, he just picked that up. When I first met him, he couldn’t play no piano. I don’t know much about his piano, but I know he can play a harp.
Chris Strachwitz : Yeah, he’s a good harp player. Also, I like his singing when he keeps his voice down. But when he starts shouting, he looses his voice I think.
K.C. Douglas Yeah, well, he’s singing it just like all the rest of it. You figure when you get in one of these, you got to blast.
Chris Strachwitz : Yeah, that’s the trouble.
K.C. Douglas We had trouble with him about blowing that on his notes. If he just go ahead and play, he covers that mic. I used to slip and cut the mic down. I want to get me a good blues in this, a good slow blues in that, that’s what I like. In this type of music, you makes your own beat. It do, you makes your own beat.
Chris Strachwitz : You know that’s the work by a drummer, setting the beat.
K.C. Douglas No, you set your own beat.
Chris Strachwitz : Yeah, that’s what I like about it, when you’re just guitar. It sounds so much freer, rather than when you’re with your rhythm
K.C. Douglas My uncle played like that.
Chris Strachwitz : Is that right? What’s his name?
K.C. Douglas His name is Smith Douglas.
Chris Strachwitz : When did the guitar sort of take over, didn’t they used to play banjo in the……
K.C. Douglas They used to have quite a few banjo players, they out, too. Banjos, next thing that’s going out now look like it’s trumpets.
Chris Strachwitz : I know, that’s sad to see … All they got is saxes now.
K.C. Douglas Yeah, saxophone. Well, they always had, but I don’t know what happened to trumpets. Guitars, I say, pushed them out.
Chris Strachwitz : Did you hear a lot of mandolin players?
K.C. Douglas Used to have a lot of them, you don’t see them anymore anywhere.
K.C. Douglas: That’s true, I like the sound of mandolins. I think they’re fine, a sharp cutting one, you know?
K.C. Douglas But you know there ain’t too many of them fool with mandolins anymore, but I like them chords some of them guys make on them banjos. Oh my, that’s some pretty chords made there!
Chris Strachwitz : That’s true. Have you ever played banjo?
K.C. Douglas Never have, never was around one. I guess if I had of been, I’d have learned it too.
K.C. Douglas: Did you ever play any church music at all, spirituals or anything like that?
K.C. Douglas I never did try worth nothing, I seen very little of that. I didn’t like it.
Chris Strachwitz : I was just wondering. So often, you heard that a lot of the spiritual singers, they won’t sing blues. Like Mahalia she doesn’t liked to sing blues. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, blues singers never sing spirituals. Some of them did sing both .
K.C. Douglas Well, actually, a good songster, if he took singing, a good song is supposed to sing anything.
Chris Strachwitz : Yeah, that’s probably true.
K.C. Douglas He’s supposed to sing everything, blues or anything. You take most of them church people, they don’t want to sing it. That’s another thing that people didn’t hear it from back down there. The church, they church crazy.
Chris Strachwitz : Yeah, that’s true.
K.C. Douglas Oh, they church crazy. I don’t fight church, it’s nothing wrong with them.
Chris Strachwitz : They sort of get glued, if one preacher has a big power….
K.C. Douglas Oh man, that’s another thing they got from way back, they just church crazy. As far as I’m concerned, I ain’t see that much good they ever done. Not to help the race of people. Might help you when you’re dead, but…
Chris Strachwitz : I agree with you. I think that church people, they just keep everything the same.
K.C. Douglas I think, for the colored people, that come from slavery time too. At one time, they didn’t allow them to have churches. They said, no.
Chris Strachwitz : I guess the only hope at that time was to believe in something…
K.C. Douglas Well, the white people, they had churches, but they didn’t allow the colored people to have them. They would slip around and hear the white people singing and praying and they start trying to do it. The book says that they had to get in a chimney corner, or go down in the woods somewhere and not let them hear them. They worked out where they let them have their churches. They said the reason they did that, they wasn’t learning anything, and the human being has got to be learned something. If it don’t he go nuts. They had a bunch of those guys, slaves, they’d have 15, 20, or 25 of them. Me and you working together, come in this evening, got mad, I’d like to cut your head off. I didn’t have any fear. Then, they decided that they would teach them fear. We got to learn them something, but we don’t want him to know no political. We don’t want him to have no education, so we go to learn them something. Some smart guy said, “Some of them trying to serve God and have church, just let him go that way.” They rigged up the churches, then the slave owners will say they went building up churches, making him pay for it back there on the back side of the place…
(tape Stops) ….canned heat.
Chris Strachwitz : What is that canned heat refer to?
K.C. Douglas Well, the guy drink canned heat.
Chris Strachwitz : Oh, is that a liquor?
K.C. Douglas Yeah, that’s drink, you got to get drunk off of. The guy went and made that, Tommy Johnson, he made that record in 1927, ’28. He the only man I ever see whiskey wouldn’t make him drunk, it had to be canned heat or alcohol. I seen him drink a pint of corn Whiskey and didn’t stop. I seen him catch a man’s hand with one hand, they bought him a pint of whiskey, and he turned it up. When he turned it down, they throwed the bottle away.
Chris Strachwitz : In just one gulp
K.C. Douglas He got up and went on downtown, told them he needed something to get drunk off. I said good God from heaven, I was trying to play guitar too. I said good God, what kind of insides does that man got? He wasn’t no bigger than that, but that guy could sing. He could drink straight alcohol.
Chris Strachwitz : That stuff, that could’ve made you blind, though, if you make that stuff ….
K.C. Douglas Yes, it will.
Chris Strachwitz : Some kind, I don’t know. That’s a beautiful little style about …
K.C. Douglas I done forgot how to sing in them tunes, they should’ve played the blues in that stuff.